December 12, 2005

This year, the complaint is not that the state has a large tree in the Capital rotunda.

It's that we've been calling it a "holiday tree" and not a "Christmas tree." So you see, both sides of the political spectrum are willing to grab attention and make us feel bad about what most people in Wisconsin just like and feel good about for unexamined reasons.

Who cares what the thing is officially called?

That's easy: ideologues. Most ordinary people, I think, don't want any political fighting stirred up over Christmas. Look who's doing the stirring here: "46 state legislators, mostly Republicans, wrote and signed a letter to Gov. Jim Doyle...." Doyle is up for reelection next year -- have you heard?

Warm greetings of the season... the election season.


The Drill SGT said...

I'm not religious. I guess (using that Jewish construct) that you could call me "culturally protestant". I like traditional Christmas however. I don't understand how/why you folks started calling that green thing a Holiday Tree, since it is obviously a Christmas tree. I think it ought to be called what it patently is. Nobody would ever call a Menorah a holiday festive candle display. Let's get real and call things what they really are.

After all at its roots a Christmas tree is really a pagan (Germanic pantheon) symbol incorporated into Christan traditions. And nobody should have a big problem with separation of Woden and State.

Dave said...

"Jewish construct"

What does that mean?

Anyway, Ann, I suspect you're right: the only people who care are the ideologues--Bill O'Reilly and his miserable cronies.

ShadyCharacter said...

Dave, I'm guessing he means a la Larry David, he's not observant.

You go on:
"Anyway, Ann, I suspect you're right: the only people who care are the ideologues--Bill O'Reilly and his miserable cronies."

And, I guess, "the drill sgt" whose post you were referring to. Remember him, he's the guy who's not religiously observant, but still objected to the falsity of calling it a "holiday tree." His post is the one right above yours.

I guess he's either a crony of Bill O'Reilly or the great man himself.

What's that? It's possible for people to disagree with Dave and not be an ideologue or a lickspittle to one? Imagine that!

AJ Lynch said...

As a lawyer, Ann, you should appreciate the fact that words have meaning. And taking a Christmas tradition and re-naming is a weaselly act.

O'Reilly has become a convenient whipping boy on this issue but his show reaches maybe 4-5% of the audience that the networks get. So why are so many MSM pundits up in arma about his reports?

Ann Althouse said...

"I don't understand how/why you folks started calling that green thing a Holiday Tree..."

Read the article: the state changed the name in 1985 when it was threatened with a lawsuit.

And my question was who cares what it's officially called? Everyone is free to call it a Christmas tree if they want! Here we've got a state senator talking about "putting the Christ back in Christmas." I don't think politicians saying things like that is at all a way of putting Christ back in Christmas. That's using religion for political goals, which is more of a sacrilege. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Simon said...

It's pretty simple. Who started this? The people who are complaining about it being renamed, or the people who renamed it?

Look, I'm not a Christian, I'm an agnostic, and even I think this "holiday tree" and "we wish you a happy holiday" (to the tune of "we wish you a merry Christmas") is pretty offensive stuff.

I think most ordinary people are not nearly so bothered by the word "Christmas" as the militant atheists behind these moves, and while they might not be ready to go out into the streets to protest, I think most people have a sense that this is ridiculous.

DEC said...

Meanwhile, in the U.K. two banks have stopped using piggy banks in their sales promotions to avoid offending pork-hating Muslims.

Attacking one group's cultural traditions to appease another group is not the way to create a harmonious global village.

Do attacks on Christmas really exist? I live in Washington, DC. I have seem examples of "Christmas attacks" every year--long before Bill O'Reilly's and John Gibson's crusade.

In one building, I saw a Star of David on top of a Christmas tree. That actually was kind of funny.

The Drill SGT said...


Shadycharacter is clearly more perceptive than you are. "I am NOT religious". Those words are generally used by Christians. My Jewish friends use the construct, "I am not observant" to mean much the same thing. by that they mean that although they don't attend regular Temple services and likely are not strong believers, never the less, they come from Jewish roots. They also describe themselves as "culturally Jewish, but not observant". That is the source of my reference in the first post.

I thought it would be fairly clear.

I don't go to church and don't have a strong belief in personal salvation through Jesus. I'm not going to spend more time on my belief structure.

Lest my brief remarks be further misconstrued, my comments referring to you folks was a reference to the people of the great state of Wisconsin, in whose state, this mis-named tree apparently resides.

Moving on, I agree with aj lynch. Call things what they are in simple English. I would have used "call a spade a spade" but then somebody else would jump down my throat about my slur.

Finally, I have never watched O'Reilly or any of the other cable pundits.

Call me a traditionalist, not an ideologue.

Joe Baby said...

I don't get too torn over these things, but what's more galling (to me) is that it's another example of gutlessness.

No wonder we gape in respective awe at Howard Stern and Larry David.

The Drill SGT said...

Sorry Ann,

I didn't read the article beyond the lead 3 para's.

I agree with simon. I would not have caved the first time, though after 20 years, I wouldn't care if it continued to be called a "holiday tree". I do strongly object to the further erosion of common sense and clear language in the name of not offending anyone, or rampant multi-culturallism.

I've got no problem with the Governor's wife and some little kid doing a menorah lighting or going out and doing a Kwanzaa (sp?) gift giving I guess.

Palladian said...

Does anyone actually celebrate Kwaanza? I've never seen anything about it except from government sources (like the post office) and i've lived in several places with majority black populations.

The Drill SGT said...


I live in the Washington DC area and the WaPo always carries articles on folks celebrating it, but honestly, I don't know if that reflects actual broad based activity or an attempt by the WaPo to connect with its readership, or some reporter's desire to demonstrate her ethnic credentials to a white editor.

Palladian said...

Yeah, that's the point Drill Sgt, it always seems to be solely a display put on for the cameras or for some politician to have a photo op.

PatCA said...

I don't even go to church, but the "holiday" tree moniker is upsetting. Words and how they are used do have meaning and the banning of the word implies there is something inherently sinister about the word Christmas. Not only that, it is stupid: if someone gets the vapors over the word Christmas, wouldn't that person also be upset at the sight of this symbol and all the other symbols?

Simon said...

"Does anyone actually celebrate Kwaanza?"

As far as I know, it doesn't exist. It was flat-out made up in the 1960s by some minor activist, who was most likely just angling for a seat on Hallmark's board of directors. I'm not aware that it's actually caught on, most likely because of its own sophistry.

John(classic) said...

The inventor of Kwanzaa is Ron Everett/ Ron Karenga/ Maulana Karenga,

Karenga was convicted of felonious assault and false imprisonment for the abduction and brutal torturing of two women in the US Organization (also called "United Slaves") that Karenga had founded. Testimony at trial was that he was present while the women were burned with a soldering iron and one had her toe tightened in a vise. He personally, according to the testimony, put detergent and a running house down one woman's mouth.

Karenga went on to become the head of the Black Studies department at UCLA.

Simon said...

Right, because nothing screams "serious academia" like a conviction for felonious assault.

proudtobealiberal said...

One issue is whether Christmas is an American secular holiday that everyone can enjoy or whether it is a Christian holiday for Christians to celebrate.

Thus, let's say that everyone agreed that a lighted evergreen tree was a Christmas tree. What does that mean? Does that mean that only Christians should have Christmas trees in their homes?

Presumably, the people who sell Christmas trees would like everyone to buy a Christmas tree, regardless of their religious background. And presumably, the 95% of Americans who celebrate Christmas include many who celebrate Christmas in an entirely secular way.

What is also interesting is that some courts and some commentators consider the Christmas tree a "secular" symbol, not a Christian symbol, and instead what nativity scenes to emphasize the religious aspect of Christmas.

Meanwhile, the Pope recently bemoaned the commericialization of Christmas and encouraged Christians to have nativity scenes in their homes to focus on the meaning of Christmas.

That sounds entirely appropriate.

Meanwhile, there are Christians really being persecuted in foreign lands. Calling a Christmas tree a holiday tree is hardly persecution.


John(classic) said...

We could call it a "Dionysian Tree"

I personally delight in responding "happy Holy Days to you" whenever anyone wishes me a "happy holiday" , but then I believe that a partial, if puny, compensation for getting old is the ability to be eccentric without fear of arrest.

Link said...

I hear they might put a holiday candle holder next to the holiday tree in the capitol

PatCA said...

There's an assumption, untrue, at the base of this kerfluffle that a majority religion is somehow de facto oppressive. But why is that true? When my Jewish relatives invite me to a bar mitzvah, they are sharing their religious tradition with me. I go and take part and let the kids teach me a prayer and eat their brisket. We are sharing the Christian holiday time. The celebration is fun. The music is great. You don't have to participate if you don't want to but you do have to respect us, too.

mark said...

It was fantastically stupid for that individual to bring an establishment lawsuit over calling it a "christmas tree", given the secular nature of that symbol. If I had been a judge assigned to hear that case, I would have thrown his or her litigious ass out of court.

It is also fantastically stupid for lawmakers to be wasting their time arguing over this kind of crap, when they could be working to benefit the citizens of Wisconsin in some way.

The only difference -- the lawmakers are paid by Wisconsonites and have greater responsibilities to their fellow citizens. So I would say their action is even more offensive.

In the end -- who cares what we call a secular symbol in a largely secularized holiday? Why get worked up about this, except to be angry that this is what *legislators* are up to? This is nakedly political, and a waste of everyones time...

EddieP said...

It is a Christmas tree, and a symbol of the season known as Christmas. Greetings such as Froeliche Weinachhten, Felice Navidad or Merry Christmas are often exchanged between Christians and other faiths at this time of year.

It offends only those who cherish being offended.

I say Merry Christmas to all.

PatCA said...

"This is nakedly political, and a waste of everyones time."

Unfortunately, that is a characteristic of politics in general.

Tom T. said...

I jusst visited the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in Washington, DC. Around the back of it, as part of the exhibition, there is a large creche, featuring angels and a baby Jesus. How can this display possibly be constitutionally permissible?

Ann Althouse said...

Tom T.: What else is in the area? Is there a mix of different holiday things or does it occupy a separate, special place by itself? Is there a sign of any sort? I'm asking these questions based on the key Supreme Court cases.

Tom T. said...

There are small subsidiary trees around the area for each state and territory. Near the creche there's a Yule log burning, which has a sign explaining the history of the Yule log. I don't recall any sign about the creche. There is no Santa or menorah or Kwanzaa symbolism.

I should have searched before commenting. Here's what the National Park Service has to say on the subject:

1984 The Ellipse
The National Christmas Tree was lighted by the President's wife Nancy Reagan on December 13 from the South Portico of the White House. With temperatures above 70 degrees, it was one of the warmest tree lightings in history.

The nativity scene (creche) was reinstated as being historically and legally appropriate for display during the Pageant of Peace in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision. The tradition of displaying the nativity scene had been discontinued in 1973, following a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit which decided an argument based upon U.S. Constitutional rights of religious freedom.

Ann Althouse said...

Tom: The key Supreme Court case that approved of a creche in a government display also had a number of things like Santa Claus and reindeer, and the Court judged the whole mix and saw it as not endorsing religion. There is another case with a creche where a creche stood alone, in a special place (in a courthouse), and it was held to violate the Establishment Clause. In the display you describe, there is the Christmas tree to dilute the religious effect and the yule log.